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Optimizing Digital Communication Between the Dental Practice and the Dental Lab


Communication with your lab is critical for a quality patient experience and outcome for your restorative dentistry. So, what is the best way to handle it that works for everyone?

Optimizing Digital Communication Between the Dental Practice and the Dental Lab. Photo courtesy of BillionPhotos.com/stock.adobe.com.

Optimizing Digital Communication Between the Dental Practice and the Dental Lab. Photo courtesy of BillionPhotos.com/stock.adobe.com.

Communication with your lab is critical for a quality patient experience and outcome for your restorative dentistry. What is the best way to find a communication style that works for everyone?

A foundational element to communication between a dental lab and a dental practice is standardized communication systems. On 3M's blog, Brain Floss, Hans-Jürgen Stecher, MDT, writes that standardized communication is essential for the dental practice and the lab. Standardizing how you communicate, from patient info to the treatment plan to desired materials, gives everyone access to relevant information about the case. It will also ensure everyone knows about decisions made along the way. Stecher also suggests standardized communication practices to demonstrate the next steps or tasks in the procedure, so everyone knows what they are doing.1

Part of Stecher's communication standardization process is to use checklists. He writes that they give structure to the work processes that are easy to understand and that the clearly defined steps enable the team to work right away. Checklists also simplify delegation, ensure that the work gets done and no steps are left out, and increase the efficiency of procedures by facilitating solution suggestions for recurrent or potential problems.1

In addition, Lumapps, an employee experience platform, suggests the following to improve digital communication:2

  • Ensure that you respect working hours. When managers send employees emails after work, it can make employees feel pressure to respond right away. The same goes for dentists emailing dental labs after hours. However, after-hours is when most dentists can send those communications. A good workaround is to draft emails and set reminders or schedule them to deliver during working hours. Or, if you know the lab well, ensure they know that you don't expect a reply until they are back in the lab.
  • Make sure you have an emergency system. Things happen. Cases change or patients have emergencies. To accommodate for these inevitabilities, ensure that you have an established procedure for urgent messages, so they don't get missed. Lumapps recommends using a different channel, like voice or video calls, for these situations. The channel use will signal an urgency to the recipient.
  • Be open to regular feedback about changes needed in the system. Even though it is a client-supplier relationship, communication best practices go both ways. Regular feedback about what is working and what isn't in your digital communication system is essential. Not only will it improve the system, but it will also promote teamwork and problem-solving in your working relationship.

The Natural Starting Point

The website is helpful for labs to set up standardized communication with their customers. For example, DDS LAB has many ways for clinicians to communicate digitally with their lab, such as its customer portal where clinicians can log in and interact with them. DDS LAB also invested in a Digital Impression webpage that explains step-by-step how to upload scans from all compatible systems, followed by a detailed workflow description. They have a live chat option for additional customer support as needed, too.

The DDS LAB website also has a daily case summary update, so dentists know where the case is and a MyDDSLab App, which is designed to facilitate mobile case tracking and is available for clinicians registered through the customer portal.

However, this website-enabled digital communication functionality isn’t limited to extremely large dental labs. Small- to mid-sized labs can also leverage digital communication via their websites to enhance their customer experiences. Nick Azar, VP of Sales and Marketing at Keating Dental Lab in Irvine, California, says that communication is critical for any laboratory to give the best service to the dentist and their patients. The need for a digital communication option has been made even more apparent, Azar says, during the COVID-19 pandemic with a lot of unavailability-to-call in dental laboratories. Keating's customer portal helped set them apart, Azar says.

"We have a portal that we developed quite a few years ago, and it's that portal that allows the dentist to do everything they need to do without having to call the lab ever," Azar explains.

Keating's customer portal, developed years ago, has a lot of communication functionality such as its ability to keep track of the stages of their case. Clinicians can also send messages to the specific technician working on the case through the portal. Communication isn’t the only highlight of this platform. The Keating portal makes it possible to make payments, upload photos clinicians forgot to send, or update prescriptions. Dental practices can also order shipping material, schedule pickups through UPS, and do anything related to their case.

The portal is also helpful for clinician-facing communication. When the STL files dentists submit are insufficient for the case, or they didn't capture the bite or opposing dentition, Keating notifies them through the portal per their preferences. When UPS delivers a case, or the lab sends one out, Keating scans the tracking number in the portal, which notifies the doctor. Moreover, the portal is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and even on holidays.

"During the pandemic, that became extremely valuable because we had very few people in here to answer all the calls and do everything a full-service lab can do," Azar says.

Enhancing Customer Relationships

In addition to the communication, Keating logs all the phone calls and customer communications related to a case. That way, Azar explains, everyone can see the history and knows what is happening with the restorative case.

"Very rarely will we ever come across something where we don't remember what happened," Azar says.

Digital communication is also helping improve the digital impression process. Many times, scanners do not perform equally in different types of cases. Azar thinks the lab should understand the strengths and limitations of the scanner and help dental practices understand these too. Keating offers classes on-site at their training facility for dentists to come in and learn with the manufacturer. Keating also sends their technicians for training on the scanner technology so technicians can be a helpful resource for dental practices.

"So, when a dentist is not having good luck with what they are doing because they're new, the lab should be able to log on and see what the team is not doing that they should be and help them get that patient taken care of," Azar says. "I'm not saying we are technical advisors. The practice should call the manufacturer and schedule another training session for that. But today, the practice needs that answer to that question, which is important for us to answer."

Keating is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and part of that celebration is to establish themselves as the kind of lab where dental practices can learn about products and how to improve digital technology skills. With their 120 employees, they have combined experience of over 5000 years, Azar says, and Keating wants their customers to take advantage of it.

"We are on a trajectory to go there," Azar says.

Digital communication with labs also enhances marketing efforts for labs. For example, Keating invested in the HubSpot CRM platform for its internal marketing use. The platform reports customer history and what led them to the lab in the first place. Azar says that data helps Keating target customers and communicate about things they are interested in learning. Azar prefers this targeted approach instead of a general blast.

"We have a way to find people who are interested in listening to what we have to say instead of sending it to every dentist and assuming they are interested," Azar says.

None of this is accidental, Azar says. Keating strives to be a digital lab, and while Keating still takes analog cases, nearly half of their cases today are 100% digital in both production and communication. The doctor pushes a button, and 3 days later, they get their finished case, a lot like ordering something on Amazon.

"That's the way the industry is heading," Azar says. "And the labs that are positioning themselves to do that are the ones that will have the lion's share of whatever it is that is out there."

  1. Stecher, MDT H. What your dental technician does not dare to tell you. Dentalblog 3M. 2022. Accessed July 8, 2022. https://dentalblog.3m.com/dental/what-your-dental-technician-does-not-dare-to-tell-you-2/
  2. Stamenova A. 10 Ways to Improve Digital Communication in the Workplace. Lumapps. 2020. Accessed July 8, 2022. https://www.lumapps.com/blog/internal-communications/improve-digital-communication-workplace/

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